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Peterson Air and Space Museum: Experiencing local heritage

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Jeffrey Nash, Peterson Air and Space Museum assistant director, and Gail Whalen, Peterson Air and Space Museum director, inventory a potential donation of graphic works at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Oct. 3, 2016. The graphic was created by Paul S. Jaffe, who was the lead graphic artist and cartoonist for the Air Defense Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command in the 1950s and early 60s.  Jaffe designed the original NORAD emblem that is still used today. (U.S. Air Force photo by Philip Carter)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Jeffrey Nash, Peterson Air and Space Museum assistant director, and Gail Whalen, Peterson Air and Space Museum director, inventory a potential donation of graphic works at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Oct. 3, 2016. The graphic was created by Paul S. Jaffe, who was the lead graphic artist and cartoonist for the Air Defense Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command in the 1950s and early 60s. Jaffe designed the original NORAD emblem that is still used today. (U.S. Air Force photo by Philip Carter)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – A group of children from the STARBASE Academy investigate the cockpit of an EC-121T Warning Star aircraft display at the Peterson Air and Space Museum on Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Oct. 4, 2016. The EC-121T Warning Star is the museum’s centerpiece, located on the east side of the airpark. (U.S. Air Force photo by Philip Carter)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – A group of children from the STARBASE Academy investigate the cockpit of an EC-121T Warning Star aircraft display at the Peterson Air and Space Museum on Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Oct. 4, 2016. The EC-121T Warning Star is the museum’s centerpiece, located on the east side of the airpark. (U.S. Air Force photo by Philip Carter)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- On a sunny fall day, a light breeze blows and Pikes Peak sits majestically in the background. A group of children from STARBASE Academy scurry from one aircraft display to another while a group of Air Force combat veterans reminisce about the planes they flew in, or worked on, when they were in the service.

The Peterson Air and Space Museum preserves Air Force culture by emphasizing the mission and history of the base and the local area.

“The museum provides a visual means of seeing our heritage.” said Gail Whalen, museum director.

The museum was established in 1976. It was originally used as a staging area to shuttle people from the original Colorado Springs passenger terminal building here to Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station for tours of North American Aerospace Defense Command.

“In 1975 Col. Don Parsons, 4600th Air Base Wing commander, the host unit here at Peterson Field and also Ent Air Force Base in downtown Colorado Springs, wanted to obtain static displays of current Air Defense Command interceptors such as the F-104, F-102 and several others,” said Jeffrey Nash, museum assistant director.

“Once they brought in these displays, everybody started calling it Parsons Park,” said Nash. Soon after it became NORAD’s visitor center, establishing it in 1976, this was the starting point of the museum.

“The museum gets 20 to 25 thousand visitors each year,” said Whalen. During the school year, student groups visit the museum and in the summertime, there’s more families that visit the area.

In the late summer and early fall, the museum guests include more reunion groups.

“Just last week the museum had two World War II era and a Korean War veterans group come in and enjoy the museum,” said Whalen.

The museum staff consist of Whalen, Nash and 35 volunteers who keep the museum running. Whalen said they get around four to six volunteers daily to help. Some of the volunteers used to be stationed at Peterson and Cheyenne Mountain, working on some of these systems. They retired and want to keep in touch with that they did.

To keep the integrity of the buildings, there is a plan to renovate the Broadmoor Hangar and bring back some of the original architectural elements. The museum plans to have the inside available for more visitor usage and displays.

“We have items going back to 1976 in the collection,” said Whalen. “Most of what’s showcased is the civilian era, the World War II period and early NORAD. There’s not a lot about AFSPC, so the plan is to start to showcase AFSPC and the 21st Space Wing in the Broadmoor Hangar.”

The Broadmoor Hangar has room for expansion. Some of the items in the planning stage include building a larger orientation theater from where they plan on starting their tours. In the same theater, they plan to put in interactive computer items for teaching Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics.

Students who learn these subjects at the STARBASE Academy on base have quick and easy access to the museum, which provides an outdoor laboratory for the students and other school groups to come to the airpark.

The museum also hosts several civic leader groups from the surrounding community, sponsored by the 21st Space Wing, Air Force Space Command and NORAD and U.S. Northern Command.

An important aspect for Airmen who work and live on base is they are able to use the museum facilities for official functions, including promotions, retirement, change of commands and other events at no charge. Events can be held in a hangar or outside in the airpark, where the aircraft displays are.

“The way the airpark part of the museum was constructed in 2000-2001, was meant to have the historic district on base become a park setting for the people that work and live here.” said Whalen “In the early evenings or Saturday afternoons around 5 o’clock, we’ll see families from housing pushing strollers, riding their bikes and just enjoying the park because it’s so beautiful and accessible.”

When people visit the Peterson Air and Space Museum, the airpark and its aircraft displays, they get a real treat learning about the planes from people who actually worked on them. It gives visitors a realistic view of what it was like when the aircraft flew and a clear picture of the history of Peterson, the surrounding communities and the people who worked here.

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